Keeping the Channel Open

February 18, 2023
Morgan, Barbara. Martha Graham in Letter to the World, No. 1. , . Photograph.
Martha Graham in Letter to the World

"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you.

Keep the channel open.

No artist is pleased.

[There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."

Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille, 1943

Work in Progress

My husband, Nick, first heard this quote by Martha Graham on a podcast. It resonated with both of us, green in our design careers and eager to be better.

This poster design was intended to be both a dedication to Martha Graham as well as a gift for Nick. I started this sometime in 2021, working on it on and off for a few weeks. Even after test prints and reviews with fellow design friends, I never "finished" it (ironically!).

My feeling is that it's too designed, too rigid, too literal. I would like to experiment with it a bit more, perhaps incorporating some watercolor, textures, or other elements. Perhaps removing her image altogether and using more free-flowing type.

More to come!

Where I Left Off

To me, the heart of this quote is the phrase, "keep the channel open." I wanted this line should be the focus of the design.

I set this in the typeface Orpheus; I felt that the swashes (like the big swooping "K" in "Keep") and the ornaments were reflective of Martha's art. I also love the small typographic details like the uppercase P's open counter within the word Open.

Martha Graham Poster by Erin English  |  Draft
The latest version of my poster design
Poster sketch
Process sketch

Inspiration + References:

Inspiration collage

A performance of Martha Graham's quote by Meryl Streep + Yo Yo Ma

Where I Am Now

I felt compelled to put this out there for a number of reasons; most importantly because it doesn't help anyone if I keep this to myself and my desktop. As Martha said, "it is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions."

It resonated with me so much when I first heard it, and I'm sure there are others who will feel the same.

And ultimately, whether or not I "finish" this design isn't important. The message, the practice, and the sharing of work are what matters most. So here I am, holding myself accountable for shipping the work (thanks, Seth Godin).

Other WIP:

  • I just wrapped up a new logo design and website for Balla Machree Lamb and will share all the details of that soon!

  • Last week I went to Portland, ME for a 3-day photoshoot with Simon Pearce at Blind Tiger. I was fortunate to be able to create the concept for the shoot, coordinate product, and shoot some video with a team of fellow creatives. More to come soon on the SP Blog.

  • I'll be taking a letterpress workshop at Craft Studies in White River Junction with Scale House Print Shop next month! I have been wanting to do letterpress for years and can't wait to start.

  • Currently working on patching up Nick's maker jacket for the second time.

  • I'm also sewing myself some Closet Core t-shirts and learning how to sew with knit fabrics.

  • Nick and I are reworking the Petite & English brand for 2023...stay tuned!

A recent find and new favorite artist:


The Life and Work of Martha Graham, A Biography (Agnes de Mille, 1956)

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© Erin English